Yale may have just turned institutional investing on its head with a new diversity edict

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This decorative iron gate is the entrance to the Memorial Quadrangle on the campus of Yale University. The gate beneath Harkness Tower, crafted by Samuel Yellin, is the most ornate of his many works at Yale.

It could be the long-awaited turning point in the world of venture capital and beyond. Yale, whose $32 billion endowment has been led since 1985 by the legendary investor David Swensen, just let its 70 U.S. money managers across a variety of asset classes know that for the school, diversity has now moved front and center.

According to the WSJ, Swensen has told the firms that from here on out, they will be measured annually on their progress in increasing the diversity of their investment staff, from hiring to training to mentoring to their retention of women and minorities.

Those that show little improvement may see the prestigious university pull its money, Swensen tells the outlet.

It’s hard to overstate the move’s significance. Though Yale’s endowment saw atypically poor performance for part of last year, Swensen, at 66, is among the most highly regarded money managers in the world, growing Yale’s endowment from $1 billion when he joined as a 31-year-old former grad student of the school, to the second-largest school endowment in the country after Harvard, which currently manages $40 billion.

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Credited for developing the so-called Yale Model, which is short on public equities and long on commitments to venture shops, private equity funds, hedge funds and international investments, Swensen has inspired legions of other endowment managers, many of whom worked for him previously, including the current endowment heads of Princeton, Stanford and the University of Pennsylvania.

It isn’t a stretch to imagine these managers and many others will again follow Swensen’s lead, one that was inspired by the growing diversity with Yale itself. Should such metrics become standard, they could dramatically change the stubbornly intractable world of money management, which remains mostly white and mostly male.

Indeed, while the dearth of woman and minorities within the ranks of venture firms may not be news to readers, a 2019 study commissioned by the Knight Foundation and cited by the WSJ underscores how big an issue it remains across asset classes. According to its findings, women and minority-owned firms held less than 1% of assets managed by mutual funds, hedge funds, private-equity funds and real-estate funds in 2017, even though their performance was on a par with such firms.

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As for why Swensen didn’t write this letter much sooner to the universe of fund managers backed by Yale, Swensen tells WSJ that he has long talked about diversity with them but says he held off on asking for systematic changes owing to a belief, in part, that there were not enough diverse candidates entering into asset management.

Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement that gained momentum this spring, he decided it was time to take the leap anyway.

As for that perceived pipeline concern, fund managers will have to figure it out. For his part, Swensen reportedly offered a suggestion to those same U.S. managers. He proposed that they forget the same resumes for which they’ve long looked and consider recruiting directly from college campuses.